Posts Tagged ‘Yoke’

Why Is Everything So Heavy 7-9-17

In this sermon, based on Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30, I explore what appears to be a somewhat irritated Jesus making a familiar statement “my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

I’ve talked about hiking before…and how it’s a pretty normal thing that I do when we are out in the mountains of Colorado. One could argue that I do a little bit around here too, although its probably safer to just call that walking.

But if there’s one thing in common about the various hikes that I’ve done over the years, they’ve all been short enough to do in less than a day…and even on some of the longer ones…hikes that last long enough that I need to bring along a few supplies in a backpack, its pretty well been limited to a jacket and raingear, and a sack lunch and water bottle…nothing too drastic.

But there’s a lot of hikers out there who are way more extreme than I will ever hope to be…and they’ll go on hikes that will last for days, or weeks…and in the case of some truly amazing people…even hikes that will last for months…and for these people…they need to bring along everything that they’ll need to sustain themselves…tents, sleeping bags, days-worth of food and water, cooking supplies, first aid kits, and the list goes on and on…and honestly, when I even think about I get tired…because you’ve got to cram all of that stuff in a pack…and you’ve got to lug it along over every single step that you take. I can only imagine just how that load must feel. Because when you combine it all, it has got to be so heavy.

The strength and the endurance of these extreme hikers amazes me…and I think it would be safe to use that old expression that they are strong as an ox. (pause) That’s an interesting saying isn’t it…one that, if we think about it…is pretty dated isn’t it? Oxen were the tractors or the heavy duty trucks of the past weren’t they…stocky, strong…able to move heavy burdens for extended periods of time…as they were latched into a yoke that was attached to a heavy wagon or to drag a plow through the field.

It’s an image of a by-gone era to think about a pair of oxen yoked together isn’t it? But its an image that, perhaps comes to mind today as we consider an odd little batch of teaching from Jesus…teachings that include what I imagine to be a pretty familiar bit of scripture to many of you…come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest…and then the kicker…take my yoke upon you…for my yoke is easy and my burden light. (pause)
Now I don’t know about you…but when I hear the word yoke…I don’t think of anything easy or light…maybe it’s the farm kid that lives in my brain, but to hear yoke is to envision those oxen straining against the old wooden yoke for hours on end…and so to consider Jesus’ odd little teaching here at the end of this passage about squabbling children, and  his thinly veiled irritation at the fickle ways that many in his audience have criticized the ministry of both Jesus and John before him…maybe, this whole thing mixed in together just comes across as confusing. (pause)

And so as we think about all this stuff today, its important to back up and think about just why Jesus says what he says today…and in the larger narrative around this passage, we hear about the opposition that Jesus is finding in his ongoing ministry…and the ways that he is criticized for his approach…and how it mirrors the criticism that John faced before him, even though John’s ministry was drastically different. But yet…there was a common thread between the two…the kingdom of heaven has come near…and if that’s the message, then I find myself wondering just what their opponents really took issue with…That the kingdom would come near to us…that God would willingly near to us? Or that the behavior of both of them fails to match up to the Pharisees perceived notion of what a faithful life looks like…or how to get there. (pause)
But before we start jumping on the Pharisees case, we should stop and realize that its human nature to think that we have to do something, or maybe that we have to do a lot of things in order for the kingdom of heaven to come around to the point where we can access it.

Think of the common questions that we face…what must I do? How do I achieve that…isn’t it up to me? I don’t know why it is, but it seems to be deeply rooted within us to think that we’ve got to earn it…whether by works of the law…or by being sorry enough for the bad things we do…or by praying enough…or by reading our Bible enough, or by giving enough offering…or any other achievement that our fickle minds might come up with…and while we might start to get down on ourselves when we think this way…its nothing new.

If we look way back in history…and the human perception of the divine…its that gods were distant and cruel…and they were in control of everything…and if you wanted to live and prosper you needed to stay on the good side of the gods…and you accomplished that by living a certain way and by making offerings…but the thing was that you never really knew how you stood with them…unless things went really badly and then you realized that the gods were mad at you just before you starved to death because your crops didn’t grow…but if on the other hand things were going pretty well you had to do all these other things to show the gods just how thankful you were and you never knew if you had done enough to stay on their good side. Crazy huh?  Do you see how futile…how frustrating that must be…to never know where you really stood? (pause) Think of how heavy of a burden that would be to carry around with you every single day…of never knowing if you’ve done enough to keep the powers that be happy with you. (pause)

But what if that wasn’t the case?  What if, our God…one that has made all of this out delight and joy…including us…what if that God takes joy…takes pleasure in revealing the truth to his beloved children that they are good enough…that they are loved and accepted as they are…and that no amount of sacrifice or duty or obligation is ever required in order to gain his favor…that the divine comes near to us simply because of God’s delight in us…because when John or when Jesus says the kingdom of heaven has come near…maybe that’s what they’re talking about. (pause)
But on the other hand…if you’ve been taught your entire life that you are only acceptable to the divine if you follow the rules and make all the right sacrifices and pray all the right prayers…and then you find some random person attracting a following by throwing that old notion out the window…I can see why they would try to find something to criticize…something to discredit the message of this guy…because your rules and regulations are safe…and if you follow them out of obligation and fear of what will happen if you don’t.

That’s the yoke of the Pharisees…that’s the yoke of a bunch of rules listed out that with the tagline of do this and your good, don’t and you’ll burn. (pause) Can you see how much of a burden that would be? To never know if you’ve covered the bases…to never know where you stand?

But Jesus says it is finished…there is no checklist…there is no minimum level of achievement because God has already claimed you…and when Jesus says his yoke is easy…I think this is what he’s talking about…and that is something that we can rest easy in…because in the end its not about what we do or say or think…its about what God has already said about us…and God looks at you and says you are mine….its not up to you…and its certainly not up to anyone else to make that judgement call where you are concerned. (pause)
Now I say all this…and yet I know that life is heavy…and we are really good and filling up our proverbial backpack with all kinds of burdens and we tell ourselves I’ve got to carry this. I won’t even try to tell you what your burdens are…but you know.  Life is hard, and I believe that God knows that, because through Christ, the God that takes delight in us, has experienced life as one of us, with all the burdens that come with it.

But yet, when Jesus says my yoke is easy and my burden light, I believe that he is assuring us that the one thing we don’t have to carry…the one thing we don’t have to stress ourselves out about…the one thing that we don’t have to worry about is whether or not we are good enough for God….because in Jesus Christ he has already come near to you…not because of anything that you have done, not because of anything that you strive to be…but simply because our God takes delight in you. (pause)
May we hear this news with joy…and find peace and solace in the promise that we have each been claimed by God, and that God delights in us as we are, right here, right now.  We may be burdened, and in fact its probably safe to say that we are…but the question of where you stand with God is not something to weigh yourself down with. (pause)
Why is everything so heavy? I don’t know. I really don’t…but this is one burden that you don’t have to carry. Amen.


(This sermon’s title and background is credited to Linkin Park and their song “Heavy.” You can see the video for this song here:


We’re Fickle Aren’t We 7-6-14

This sermon is based on Matthew 11:16-19,25-30. Jesus has been talking about John the Baptist, and exhibits frustration with the fickle response of the crowds to the different ministry styles of both John and himself.

You can listen to the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here. Be sure to disregard indications to pause and odd punctuation. I have a weird writing style after all.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

Sometimes my brain has this strange tendency to not really comprehend certain truths until a couple different coincidental things happen. I can hear something over and over again, and the truth of it just won’t sink it…but then something else happens along the same lines, and suddenly the mental light bulb goes off for me.

For the past couple of months I’ve been hearing ads on the radio as well as seeing them on tv for various political candidates. Various individuals rattling on and on before the final bit of information lets you know that they are running for congress or senate, or for governor, or whatever other races are going on. I hear them, and admittedly, 9 times out of ten the information goes in on ear and right out the other…I hear it…I groan…and then I go right back to whatever else was going on prior to the beginning of the add.

But then on Friday, I was sitting along the parade route here in town, celebrating the 4th of July along with what I estimated to be approximately ¾’s of the population of Pottawattamie County…and a few different people went by in the back of a truck or a car, with a sign indicating that they, too, are running for office. (pause) LIGHT BULB

Lightning might as well have struck my brain…because I had an epiphany…its an election year. (pause) Duh right? Admittedly, I’m been pretty slow on the uptake on that one…but when I stop and think about it, I wonder if maybe that’s a subconscious thing in my mind…protecting me from the aggravation that is politics…or to be more specific, politics during election season.

Admittedly, I’m probably failing in my civic duty, but for the most part I tend to block out these ads, because in the end all they tend to do is irritate me. I’m sure its not true across the board, but the vast majority of ads that I hear or see fail to tell me the slightest thing about the candidate that the ad is supposively supporting…Instead, 99% of the add is simply talking smack about their opponent…tell you…John Q Taxpayer why you shouldn’t vote for the other guy…listing their negative track record…their vices…their failures…and in short…trying to make you scared of them so that you’ll make the obvious choice, and vote for the right person.

And then, more often than I’d like to admit…within the very same block of commercials…you see the opponent doing the very same thing. Funny how that works isn’t it? Now I shouldn’t generalize…I really shouldn’t…but sometimes it really seems like the political ads are a bunch of bickering children…caught up in the normal sibling argument that every parent has heard…he did this…she did that…its not my fault.

And just as those bickering children try to make themselves look good by making the other one look bad, I’ve seen way too many political ads…and so perhaps I’m jaded…but it really seems like they’re just telling us what they think we want to hear…and no one can really make up their minds what they want. (pause)

Now…it should be noted that I’m not trying to be political today…far from it…I have no partisen agenda, so rest easy…I have no plans to sway you in the political realm today. Rather…as I think about the multitude of mudslinging that goes on this time of year, I’m reminded of the apparent issue that Jesus is facing in today’s story.

Admittedly, it starts off a little strange…Jesus has been talking about John the Baptist…who is currently sitting in prison because certain people didn’t like how he conducted himself in his ministry. In short…John irritated the wrong people and now he’s behind bars.

Jesus has been talking about him…and it seems that in the midst of the conversation, Jesus get’s a little exasperated thinking about the results of John’s ministry as well as his own. And he spouts off…to what will I compare this generation? Like children sitting in the marketplaces…children who just can’t get along…children who can’t decide what they want.

At first this seems a little strange to hear from Jesus…but he goes on. John came, neither eating nor drinking…John went through his ministry…bold…confrontational yes…yet following tradition and the law…and what did you do? You threw him in jail.

And when Jesus came? He tried different tactic…he lived life with those he encountered…you call him a glutton and a drunkard…and WHY? Because he sits down at the table to enjoy a meal with those who welcomed him…because he had a glass of wine? Because he simply celebrated the companionship of the people he was with at that time…and the crowds didn’t like it. (pause)

John and Jesus…two very different men…two very different styles of ministry…and yet the crowds reject them both…just like those jeering children in the marketplace…they can’t make up their mind what they want…and yet…as I think about this…about just how frustrating that must have been for Jesus and for John…and not only but for God himself who had sent both of them to proclaim this good news…as I think about that…the next part of the scripture lesson comes as no great shock as Jesus starts praying…and it really comes across as frustrated.

Father…I thank you…that you have hidden these things from the wise and clever…and revealed them to infants. (pause) Now admittedly, the first time I heard that…it confused me…because you’d think the wise and clever would understand it. The basic truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ isn’t that complicated after all…so the wise one should get it right away…but that’s not what happens…and we see just a little bit of why in Jesus’ next few statements…for no one knows the father except the son and the ones that the Son chooses to reveal him too.

And think about it…who’s Jesus going to choose to reveal God to? Those that turn away from him? Those that write him off…scoffing at him…accusing him of simply being a drunk? Or is Jesus going to reveal the truth to those who accept him…which we see in the story seems to be the ones who are likewise rejected…the simple…the lowly…the overlooked…those who have been beat down by the world and all the burdens that come with it.

So maybe…just maybe that’s why we get the strange little transition into the final portion of this scripture…something that at first glance really doesn’t seem to have all that much in common with the first two parts. Come to me…all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens…and I will give you rest.

Sounds hopeful doesn’t it? Like it might just appeal to those that are rejected and downtrodden…those carrying their own burdens…those carrying the weight of the world. When we think about that…it makes sense that they would stop and pay attention…that their ears would perk up just a bit at the teachings of this miracle man named Jesus.

But just when its all starting to make a little sense…Jesus throws out a statement that I fear has turned into something of a Christian cliché. Take my yoke upon you…for my yoke is easy and my burden light. (pause)

When’s the last time anyone saw a yoke? (pause) Anyone here under the age of 35 even know what a yoke is? Well a yoke is a wooden harness, used to hitch two oxen together by laying a big wooden beam over their necks, and connecting a wooden loop up under their throats to the main beam, so that as the two oxen move forward their front shoulder push against the beam which is in turn connected back behind them to some sort of equipment…often a plow or a heavy wagon or something of that nature.

And so, listening to that description…does that sound anything at all like something that would be easy and light? I don’t know…but it doesn’t really sound like, not when the reality sets in. (pause)
Thinking about that reminds me of something that happened last Thursday…I’d put off mowing the lawn for a couple days…and so it was nice and long and thick…I’d made a few laps around the back yard, but still had a lot left to do when all of the sudden the self-propel mechanism stopped working…and suddenly I found myself having to physically push that rather heavy mower around and around again….my first thought was “ahh…its not so bad…I can do this.” But I’ll tell you what…the physical effort that actually went into doing the work…rather than simply walking along behind it…was exhausting…I may have initially thought it would be light and easy…but I quickly discovered the exact opposite.

And so as I think about this analogy that Jesus gives us today…that his yoke is easy and his burden light…I got to admit…I scoff just a little…and I wonder if maybe just maybe you do too. Come to me…all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens. (pause)

Does that hit home with anyone out there? Anyone carrying heavy burdens…anyone got the weight of the world on your shoulder. Bills pilling up…emotions running high…tough times staring you in the face…maybe a lost job or an illness? (pause) We all carry burdens…sometimes they don’t seem so bad…but other times they threaten to drive us into the ground and nothing we do or say or think seems to make difference.

And in those times I think we hear Jesus say take my yoke upon you and it sounds like one more thing…and sometimes…sometimes in the midst of all that stuff, we hear these words from Jesus and they don’t come across as hopeful…instead they come across as a big joke…and we ask the question where are you on all this stuff?

I lost my job…and I feel that pain…I’m facing a terminal diagnosis…and I feel that fear…I lost someone I love and I’m still mourning…where are you on that one Jesus? Because this yoke of yours still feels pretty heavy. (pause)

So what do we do in those times…when the hope that Jesus offers us doesn’t really seem to be easing the pain that we’re feeling…what do we do with that? What we do when Jesus and the salvation of sin that he offers us through his death on the cross doesn’t take away the burden of life? (pause)

Well, in those times, we stop to remember just how a yoke works…and how many animals are in that yoke to begin with. Two…not one…its not one animal acting alone…a yoke takes two…sharing the load…both working hard…both straining…both having to work together to get past the task at hand…neither one of those animals is alone in their experience…and neither…are…we.

Take my yoke upon you…and I will take it upon me as well…and together we will walk through this life…we will walk through this pain…and through this burden…yes you will still experience it…life as a believer in Christ does not take the pain and stress and hurt out of life…but it does offer us the hope of knowing that we have a God that has experienced it as well. We have a God who has entered our reality…experienced the same pain…the same stress…the same hurts that we experience…and this is the same God that chooses to walk beside you while you experience yours…and I believe that when we experience the pain of life…and we mourn the reality…the first being that mourns is God himself…and whether we realize it or not…whether we want to admit it or not…whether we want it or not…he’s there…right beside us.

This is the truth of the gospel…that we have a God that loves us so much that he cannot bear to be apart from us…and since we can’t get to him…he comes to us. We can’t get up there so he comes down here…and this is the truth that is revealed to the lowly ones…this is the truth that is revealed to children…and why to children?

Well…has a child ever asked you a question? You give them the answer…and they don’t think about it…they just say “Ok.” And when a child hears the truth that God loves them and Jesus died for them, they don’t over think it…they don’t try to use their wisdom to explain it away…they just say ok…so maybe that’s why Jesus tells us to become like a child…and accept that he is there with you…in the midst of your burdens…and you are not alone. Amen.